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The Race for Solar

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Solar on Saudi Sands Could Export Energy for Decades

April 17th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Every square meter of Saudi Arabia produces an extraordinary 7 kilowatt hours of energy daily in each 12 hours of sun power. If the Saudis were to use up each days solar energy supply, or 12,425 TWh of electricity, it would be a 72 year supply. Put another way, in just one day, enough solar energy hits Saudi sands to power the kingdom for 72 years, according to a study made by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology.

That is an extraordinary resource. It is significantly more than the rest of the world. For example: as a Californian who used a typical 15 kilowatt hours of energy a day, this means my entire home could have been fully solar powered by just 2 square meters – or about 3 feet by 6 feet – of solar panels in Saudi Arabia! And Saudi Arabia has about 2 trillion square meters able to produce 14 trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy every sunny day – that is enough to power the world.

But of course, no country wants to be entirely devoted to energy production, least of all one that is still making good money from digging up oil, but it is indicative of the kind of money the Kingdom could be earning from solar exports rather than oil exports.

Just as it earns its vast income from oil now, it could equally well earn a similarly vast income from solar in the future. And for vast eons of time.

Transitioning to solar from oil would take an initial investment in the infrastructure, and then would yield an income stream regardless of fuel depletion, because solar is there for the long run, unlike the oil which is getting harder and harder to get out of the ground.

But it is Saudi Arabia itself which is in the best position in the world to make that transition and invest in a replacement for oil. With oil prices at $102 a barrel at today’s market price, the Saudis have over $30 trillion in underground assets.

With that much money in huge (but depleting) assets in petroleum and natural gas reserves, now is the time that Saudi Arabia should invest and become the world’s largest producer of green solar energy.

Saudi Arabia could export solar for centuries either as electricity into the Desertec grid, or as hydrogen fuel, using its tankers and pipelines.

Desertec, which will be shipping billions of kilowatt hours of desert solar energy across to Europe in the near future is becoming a reality in more MENA region nations with the addition of Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, but the Saudis are not members of the visionary project.

Even though; unlike its poorer neighbors, it has tremendous financial assets – enough to become a leader in the project along with the giant German energy companies RWE and E.On – because it could self-fund its own Desertec infrastructure investment.

With over 250 hours of sunshine each month, Saudi Arabia is ideally located to make the most of solar power.

It even has the infrastructure already in place to be a leader in the solar-powered hydrogen economy of the future. Increasingly hydrogen researchers are turning to sustainable long term sources – wind or solar – for hydrogen production.

Solar powered hydrogen could be transported in the same pipeline and tanker infrastructure that now moves our climate-destroying oil energy around the world.

Saudi Aramco – 100% owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – through its affiliate, Vela Marine International Ltd, owns and operates the world’s second largest tanker fleet to help transport its crude oil production, which amounted to 3 billion barrels a year. It is a world leader in exploration, producing, refining, distribution, shipping and marketing.

Most of this infrastructure and expertise could be repurposed to transform Saudi Arabia into a solar hydrogen economy.

This infrastructure could be re-engineered to become a gigantic carrier fleet for hydrogen made with sustainable solar energy and shipped worldwide. New solar infrastructure could be added, as it has begun to do in making polysilicon from its sand.

It is Saudi Arabia that holds the key, with its unique combination of natural and financial resources, to creating a huge long-term future for the world that is based on a sustainable permanent source of energy: our sun.

Susan Kraemer writes for Green Prophet, from where this article is adapted.


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